Opioids and Arthritis Pain Patients

Patient talking with her suboxone doctor

Data shows that amid the opioid epidemic, the percentage of adults seeking arthritis pain relief through office-based physicians vastly increased between 2006 and 2015. The rate of visits where opioids were prescribed also grew within this period. The correlation of these instances is not a coincidence and played a role in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s revision of opioid prescribing guidelines published in 2016, particularly regarding chronic pain.

New Guidelines

The most recent CDC recommendation for treating chronic pain involves nonpharmacological therapy and non-opioid medications. Concessions are considered for the opioid treatment of chronic pain, including conditions like osteoarthritis, only if the benefits far outweigh the risks and potential harm of long-term opioid use. Additionally, newer research has found that opioids aren’t proven to be a superior form of pain relief for arthritis patients as compared to non-opioid medications.

Interpreting the Data

When looking at the data sets that show the growing trends of arthritis diagnosis and opioid prescription, it becomes clearer how much of the opioid crisis was fueled by prescription medications. The normalization of medicinal opioid use for any kind of pain without regard for the efficacy of the treatment and potential addiction risks only paints half the picture. These prescribing practices garnered a method for people to acquire opioids more easily from various private doctors by claiming arthritis pain, often called doctor shopping.

Meanwhile, people with chronic arthritis were put at high risk of addiction and dependency (among many other health factors) while undergoing a pain management program that was not more effective than non-opioid measures. What’s worse, new research shows that taking opioids long-term can cause people to experience more pain for longer due to a decrease in the body’s ability to use its own naturally occurring pain relief, essentially making pain worse. The loss of resilience in chronic pain patients who use opioids can cause a cycle of needing to prolong their treatment and opioid medication use due to their dependence and weakened pain tolerance, significantly increasing the risk of misuse and addiction.

Looking into the Future

Using previous data to draw inferences about opioid prescribing practices for chronic pain from conditions like arthritis has given way to new research that may lead to necessary changes in how pain is considered across all medical fields. By using better surveillance of chronic pain, especially those with arthritis, advancements in non-opioid pain management for pain sufferers will hopefully make a dent in the opioid crisis. With fewer people being prescribed long-term opioid medications, the risk of addiction decreases. People will then be able to find better relief for their ailments without incurring unnecessary health risks.

Middlesex Recovery provides comprehensive substance use disorder treatment using FDA-approved medications along with substance use counseling. Patients at Middlesex Recovery clinics receive care from highly specialized medical providers that believe in a whole-patient approach to treatment. Those suffering from chronic pain who have taken opioids long-term to deal with their condition can speak with our physicians about their options. Give the closest Middlesex Recovery facility a call today to learn more about our recovery programs.